Games for US History and Geography (Gameschooling Part 3)

10 Days in the USA

Games for US History and Geography

Over the previous two installments, I’ve talked about why we are gameschooling, and how we used it with our science curriculum this year.

But science isn’t the only place that games can help! Our social studies curriculum this year was US history and geography, with a concentration on our local Massachusetts history, culture, and geography. Could we use games to reinforce these lessons too?

Geography Games

There are plenty of ways to learn about United States geography. From books to maps, songs to TV shows, you can find something that will work for you. Naturally, our family turns to games.

10 Days in the USA is a staple for our family. Plan your “trip” across the country by drawing and rearranging cards in your numbered holder. It’s not our most exciting game, but it’s very easy to get into as soon as your kids can read a little. Repeated play helps with identifying the states from the US map, and may begin to impart a sense of scale (it’s a big country, after all).

10 Days in the USA cards: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine
There have been many printings of 10 Days in the USA, but they all teach the same information.

Ticket to Ride is also helpful for getting a better sense of where important cities are on the map. If you live in Pennsylvania or upstate New York, I highly recommend the UK/Pennsylvania map expansion for the game. The Pennsylvania map adds a challenging mechanic of railroad stock, and represents that region very faithfully.

Local Geography

Since we are in Massachusetts, I haven’t found any games specific to our state or local geography. Games have not been as helpful as studying maps and taking a few field trips.

Learning more about the Revolutionary War in Lexington, MA.

USA History Games

Our curriculum covered 500 years of United States history. The first half of the year we mostly focused on getting through the textbook, so we didn’t spend much time using games to explore events before 1900.

We did take a quick side trip through Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark. In this game, roll dice and allocate them to try to collect cards representing native species discovered, and native peoples encountered. Simply taking an afternoon to play allowed a new focus on the Louisiana Purchase and the first trip to the Pacific Ocean.

Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark
Explore the wilderness, record your findings, and trade with the natives in Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis and Clark

When we approached the 20th century, I left the curriculum behind and started finding my own materials for the World Wars, the Great Depression, and beyond. After discussing how World War I changed the face of modern warfare, we played The Grizzled. It’s a very challenging cooperative game that is about a group of young French soldiers simply surviving until Armistice Day. Although it’s not technically about Americans, I still found it very helpful.

The Cold War and Beyond

While we are working our way through post-WWII history, there are many more games to be found. There are two games that captured our imaginations this year. Both Pan Am and Space Explorers give some depth to Cold War history.

Pan Am
Pan Am

Pan Am (our review) is all about the triumph of air travel and snapping up small airlines to form a big conglomerate. Playing this let us do a deeper dive into one small aspect of the post-war period, while also reinforcing world geography.

Another deep dive is Space Explorers. As I mentioned in our science segment, this game can whet appetites for the history of the space race. I am supplementing this with documentaries about the first orbiters and manned missions.

Space Explorers hand of cards

Timeline: Big Overview? or Big Loser?

The big disappointment in this area was the Timeline games. We had two versions: US History and Inventions/Discoveries. But both games reward a very broad knowledge of history that most kids won’t even approach until highschool.

Even when I gave him a pretty serious handicap, my son usually lost – and more than that, he walked away from our Timeline games frustrated. When he couldn’t guess where a given event fit in the broad scope of history, the Timeline games didn’t help him learn, they punished his ignorance instead.

1903 Wright Brothers...
1929 ... Great Depression
1929 Museum of Modern Art opened in NYC
1989 Crash of the Exxon Valdez
2001 September 11th
An average 10 year old cannot place most of these events into a timeline.

The Timeline games are better used as a replacement for quizzes. By themselves, they won’t teach much, unless your kids have the patience to play and lose over and over again.

Exploring History through Games

There are so many games with historical settings. We could have played many more this year! The few I’ve mentioned here fit best for our curriculum, ability, and time.

As we learned with the Timeline games, not every game that is packed with historical facts is going to be fun. Look for games that focus on a specific era in history, and use them as springboards to explore those eras in more depth.

Next year, we’ll be doing world history. I can’t wait to dive into even more games to give our learning some extra flavor!

You can find most of these history and geography based games on Amazon, and at least a few at your friendly local game store.

Next week: our final subject area…

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